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Mississippi's Reactionary Stand on Abortion

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch—The Right Wing’s Flamethrower for Overturning “Roe vs. Wade” August 2, 2021



Mississippi-- the Magnolia State. A better name for it would be the “Reactionary State.” MS, from the get-go, has led the nation backwards in just about every major economic and social matter. MS was settled by a majority of poor white Scots-Irish and English Protestant farmers. However, MS was also settled by a few big planters who dominated that state’s economic and political culture. These planters traded in African slaves and brought thousands of those slaves with them. These black slaves were forced to work on plantations growing cotton mainly in the Mississippi Delta that borders the Mississippi River. On 12/10/1817, MS became the 20th state admitted to the Union, as a slave state, of course (See Richter, W., “The A-Z of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” 1942, Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac). By 1860, MS was the nation’s top cotton-producing state and African American slaves constituted 55% of MS’ population, a majority. After S. Carolina, MS was the second state to secede from the Union on 1/09/1861 (Yanak & Cornelison, “The Great American History Fact-Finder,”1993). Former MS U.S. Senator and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederacy. Following the Civil War, under the Reconstruction government of black and white legislators, MS re-entered the Union (Yanak & Cornelison).


During Reconstruction, when the blacks’ right to vote was protected by the federal government, they were elected to MS local, state, and even national offices. African American Hiram Revels was elected in 1870 to the seat once held by Jefferson Davis (Yanak & Cornelison). However, many MS southern whites began a campaign of violence during Reconstruction to take back control of the government and enact white supremacy. Organized in paramilitary organizations to suppress black voting, these whites also intimidated fellow whites to leave the Republican Party and join the then white supremacist Democrats. From 1874-1875, these violent white groups led riots against MS blacks in at least 15 cities around the state and in many rural areas. They killed anywhere from 150-300 blacks. Whites in MS broke up black meetings and lynched black leaders, destroying political organizations. This “Mississippi Plan,” of anti-black violence encouraged other states like S. Carolina to do the same to achieve white dominance. After GOPer Rutherford Hayes withdrew federal troops from the South in 1877 as part of a “national compromise” to win his contested presidential race, Jim Crow segregation laws were quickly enacted by MS and other Southern states that followed MS’ racist lead. MS Gov. James K. Vardaman made no bones about his plans for destroying black voter rights. In 1890, the MS segregationist legislature enacted a new state constitution that in Gov. James Vardaman’s words was done to “eliminate the ‘n-word’ from politics.” Over the next few years, 100,000 blacks were eliminated from the voter rolls. Until the enactment of the 1965 Voter Rights Act, blacks were effectively shut out of MS elections at all levels. Blacks were denied extended credit which forced many of them to lose their farms and end up as helpless sharecroppers. The Jim Crow segregation laws were enforced by numerous lynchings from the 1890’s to the 1930’s. The nation saw that lynching was “alive and well” in 1950’s MS. In 1955, while visiting relatives in the MS Delta, Chicago black 14-year old Emmett Till was lynched for whistling at a white woman. The MS all-white jury acquitted his killers (Halberstam, “The Fifties,” 1993, sos.state.ms.). In the 1940’s, Congressional bigots like MS’ John Rankin and Senator Theodore Bilbo “led” the nation in blatantly proclaiming their racist hate for blacks and Jews (See “A Time for Healing,”Shapiro, 1992). As a result of the vicious Jim Crow laws, anti-black violence, poor economic conditions, and voting rights suppression, many MS blacks fled the state and went north to NY, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, and other areas. As of 1960, blacks made up only 42% of the MS population, and were now a minority (wqad.com/20, Woodell). As of 2018, whites make up 57% of MS’ population, while blacks constitute 37.5% of that state (Cohen & Cook 2020). MS still has the highest majority black population in the nation, but blacks continue to remain a distinct minority (Cobb, 1994, “The Most Southern Place on Earth”). MS “led” the nation in driving out its blacks.


After the 1954 “Brown vs. Bd. of Education” School integration case and the 1960’s civil rights demonstrations, MS still “led” the nation as the most reactionary of Southern states in fighting integration in schools, voting, and public accommodations. The KKK and White Citizens Councils used violence and economic threats to suppress black civil rights activists (See Halberstam, “The Fifties”). NAACP MS leader Medgar Evers was assassinated at his home. KKKers and their sympathizers murdered three people in Neshoba County MS, one a black, and two whites who had come from the North to help register black voters. It took MS jurors years to finally convict some of these racist killers (See Cohen & Cook, 2020). MS was forced to allow blacks to vote under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As a result, many blacks were elected to school board posts and won mayors’ races. However, GOP politicians saw the strong political reaction of MS southern whites to black equality. By voting against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater won MS’ presidential vote in 1964. Richard Nixon modeled his “Southern strategy” on similar resistance to black equality, in which MS was a big “leader.” After MS voted for 3rd party racist demagogue AL Gov. George Wallace in 1968, it became Nixon’s No. 1 state in 1972. Ronald Reagan gave one of his first high-profile speeches at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980. Only race still matters. Reagan talked about “states’ rights” there, an anti-black dog whistle. Reagan had to have known that he was honoring whites and their descendants who looked the other way at the Neshoba County civil rights killings (See Steven, “It Was All a Lie,”2020).” After the Voting Rights Act’s passage, MS “led” the way in showing the rest of the South that whites will win state legislative, gubernatorial, House, Sen., and presidential races by being racially polarized. There is now no need for violence. MS whites win elections by nearly 60% v.35%-40% margins. Trump carried MS in 2016 by 18 points, (58%-40%). In, 2020 he beat Biden by 16.5 points (57.5%-41%). There are very few whites in MS who stay with the Democrats. When black Democrat and former Congressman/Sec. of Agriculture Mike Espy ran against white Cindy Hyde Smith for the U.S. Senate in a special election race, GOPer Smith won by 8 points, 54%-46% (Cohen & Cook 2020). In 2020, when she ran for a full term, GOPer Hyde Smith beat Dem. Espy by 9.97 votes, 54.10% v. 44.13% (State of MS Gen. Election Certified Results). There seems to be a mid-40% range ceiling that a Democrat can reach in racially polarized MS in a hot contest. Hyde-Smith, visited Jefferson Davis’ homestead and proposed naming a stretch of highway after him. She also once stated that she wouldn’t mind “attending a public hanging,” which many blacks took as referring to lynching. Why be surprised? To most MS whites, none of this matters. A reservoir was also named after Gov. Ross Barnett. Barnett was the Gov. in 1962. He helped start a riot that killed several people when he unsuccessfully resisted James Meredith’s attempt to integrate the University of Mississippi (See nps.gov/state/ms). Dems. only control one majority black U.S. House district. Yes, blacks have more than one-quarter of the seats in the state legislature, but they are in the overwhelming minority. The GOP with its racial polarization has a trifecta here (Governor and two state chambers). MS’ remains a “leader” in the “Southern-fried” GOP base.


Many Southerners often say, “Thank God for Mississippi.” Translation: This means that with MS in the cellar on economic and educational issues, their states “look good” by comparison. In 2007, MS students scored the lowest of any state on the National Assessments of Educational Progress in both math and science (wiki). MS has the nation’s worst-performing health care system, according to the Commonwealth Fund. Education Week ranked MS schools 47th in the nation. Per capita income in 2018 is about 70% of the national average (Cohen & Cook 2020). MS’ a “leading” backwards economic basement dweller.


In 2004, MS was an early “leader” in banning same-sex marriage. Voters passed an amendment to this effect by an 86%-14% margin, the largest in any state (wiki).The U.S. Supreme Ct. overturned this ban in the “Obergefell vs. Hodges” case in 2014 (Trachtman, “The Supremes’ Greatest Hits,”2016). MS “leads” the nation in having some of the most permissive gun laws in the country. There are no license or background checks required to openly carry handguns anywhere in the state. MS is proud of its “leadership” in having capital punishment. MS is part of the fundamentalist Protestant Bible Belt. Many polls, including Gallup, have ranked MS as the “most religious state in the U.S.” Seventy-seven percent of the state calls itself Protestant, with 41% of this group describing themselves as evangelicals (wiki table, 2014). COVID-19 cases have increased. As of 7/28/2021, MS had the highest rate in the U.S. Only 39% have had at least one COVID shot and just 34% have been fully vaccinated (nytimes.com/interactive, 7/28/21). MS stands as a reactionary “leader” in the major health crisis of our time.


Is should, therefore, come as no surprise that reactionary MS is one of the most “pro-life”/anti-choice states in the U.S. A 2014 Pew Research Center Poll found that 59% of the state’s population thinks abortion should be illegal in all/most cases, while only 36% of the state’s population thinks abortion should be legal in all/most cases. In 5/2021, the Supreme Ct. of the United States (SCOTUS) agreed to hear and decide next term “Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (latimes.com, Litman, 7/29/21).” In the “Dobbs” case, MS is appealing a decision that struck down its ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, two months shy of a fetus’s viability. There are no exceptions for rape and incest in this MS law. If the highly conservative SCOTUS agrees to reverse this case and upholds MS’ Gestational Age Act, two precedents will have to be overturned. Precedent #1—the 1973 “Roe vs. Wade” opinion which gives a woman an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is viable. Precedent #2—the 1992 “Planned Parenthood vs. Casey” opinion. In that decision, SCOTUS held that states can place onerous and expensive obstacles in a woman’s path to an abortion, but left the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability occurs up to the woman. MS Attorney General Lynn Fitch is the right-wing’s flamethrower arguing this case. Already, nearly 230 GOP members of Congress have told SCOTUS to overturn “Roe (Greenhouse, nytimes.com, 7/29/21, cnn.com, de Vogue, 7/29/21).” Who is Lynn Fitch?

Lynn Fitch (59) is MS’ Attorney General. She is the first woman Atty. General of that state and the first Republican to hold that office since Reconstruction (Greenhouse, nytimes.com, 7/29/21). Holly Springs, MS native Fitch attended the University of Mississippi where she received her undergraduate and law degrees (webarchive.org, 1/11/2012). Fitch worked as a bond lawyer in private practice. She became counsel for the MS House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. Fitch was a special assistant attorney general with the MS Attorney General’s office. In 2009, Fitch was named the executive director of the MS State Personnel Board by GOP Governor Haley Barbour (jacksonfreepress.com). In 8/2011, Fitch won the GOP nomination for MS State Treasurer and crushed her Democratic opponent in the 11/2011 general election with 59% of the vote (sos.ms.gov/links/elections). In 2015, she won-reelection to that post clobbering a Reform Party candidate by a 58.48% of the vote. No Democratic candidate challenged her (MS Election Results 2015).



In 2019, Fitch ran for Attorney General of MS. The key issue in the three-way GOP primary was who was the most conservative. Fitch proudly declared, “I’m an original Trump supporter. I have a relationship with our president, and you can count on me to work with our president to stand strong, to fight illegal immigration, build that wall, and also stop the assault on our Christian values (nytimes.com, Greenhouse, 7/29/21).” Fitch won the primary and defeated her black Democratic opponent by 15.6% points, 57.8%-42.2% (ballotpedia.org). And Fitch sure is one big Trump loyalist. When Biden won the 2020 election, Trump refused to concede and claimed voter fraud. Fitch joined the unsuccessful Trump lawsuit to support TXs’ claims that the votes were illegally affected by fraud (wmcactionnews5.com/12/09/2020). Fitch, again, puts MS in the forefront of fighting for a reactionary modern “Lost Cause” demagogue.


MS Atty. General Fitch, IMHO, has gone over “the legal guardrails.” LA Times legal affairs columnist Harry Litman calls her written brief for MS’ draconian anti-choice law an “act of official irresponsibility of a piece with the South’s behavior during Reconstruction and the civil rights era (latimes.com, 7/29/21).” Fitch’s brief argues that “nothing in constitutional, text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion.” Fitch seems to be forgetting or sneering at the last 48 years of stare decisis, “let the decision stand,” since “Roe vs. Wade.” She is even ignoring the last 56 years since the right of marital privacy involving birth control was upheld in “Griswold vs. CT.” “Griswold” was the precedent used in “Roe.” However, in Fitch’s “reasoning,” the only thing that counts in this country of over 332 million people is the number 5. Five “rock hard votes” on SCOTUS will be all it takes in a final opinion to ignore or overturn “Roe vs. Wade,” “Planned Parenthood vs. Casey,” all the cases following them, and “Griswold’s” reasoning. And it looks like anti-choice flamethrower Fitch has Justices Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh in her corner even before any oral arguments (See cnn.com, Biskupic, 7/26/21). Fitch filed her SCOTUS appeal to overturn the lower federal courts’ reversal of MS’ 15 weeks ban on abortion law in 6/2020. It took SCOTUS 11 months to decide to hear her case. During that time, pro-choice Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Many commentators believe Coney Barrett was the key fourth vote to grant certiorari or take this case (See Greenhouse, nytimes.com, 7/29/21, Jost, 1993-1994 “Supreme Court Yearbook”).


With the current SCOTUS lineup, count on “Roe” to be overturned or weakened to the point of irrelevance. Since “Roe” has been decided, there have been 1,327 abortion restrictions in the U.S. In 2021, 97 restrictions were enacted, the highest number in one year since “Roe” was decided. If “Roe” is overturned, 10 additional states will have trigger laws on the books which would immediately take effect to ban abortion. If “Roe” is overturned, the South, the Plains, and the Midwest states would have a dramatic reduction in abortion rights. Count on conservative legislators in “Blue” pro-choice states like NY and CA trying to waste their states legislatures’ time by repeatedly bringing up abortion restriction proposals. Such legislators may also put such issues to a vote on state ballots.


Again, all elections count. In mid-term 2022, abortion rights will be on the ballot. Democrats must come out in droves plus to increase our House and Senate majorities. We must also vote to increase “Blue” members in our state legislatures and in the governors’ mansions to protect a woman’s right to choose. MS must not, once more, lead our nation backwards.